By Brenda Tadych
I’ve had a fear of heights as long as I can remember. I refuse to let it keep me from having fun and when a showdown with that fear is necessary, I can muster up the courage. I did just that at the New River Gorge Bridge Walk in West Virginia last summer.
The New River Gorge Bridge is a sight to behold, its mammoth single arch supporting the mile long steel bridge that is part of Route 19 in the town of Lansing, West Virginia. I was apprehensive about our upcoming bridge walk, but fear really slammed into me as we drove over the bridge that we would soon be walking under.
So, this was what 800 feet looked like up close.
My significant other and I met our tour guide, Phil, at the visitor center for a briefing. Phil advised us of the rules and regulations for the bridge walk and reassured us that although the New River Gorge Bridge was actually 876 feet high, we would only be going up to 851 feet. What a relief.
As we slipped our legs into safety harnesses attached to long lanyards, I watched as Phil sprayed the metal latches that would eventually be our lifeline to a cabling system. Was he spraying them because they were rusting? I had a bad feeling, but my better half, a maintenance man by trade, assured me this was simply good preventive maintenance. To prevent what?
A shuttle bus transported us to the start point, and Phil led us down a foreboding mountain trail to the bridge walk entrance. There it was - one of the longest steel arch bridges in the Western Hemisphere extending beyond where I could see. And below it - 800 feet of air. I was grateful for every second spent waiting while Phil hooked my latch to the safety cable, which I fervently hoped would live up to its name.
Then came the moment of truth. They couldn’t force me to go after all. The first step is always the hardest, and in the moment of truth, I stepped onto the two-foot wide catwalk. Immediately, I felt my stomach shoot up to my throat like it does on the descent of a rollercoaster hill. Our guide assured us it was impossible to fall, but dangling? Well, that was another story.
I gained a smidge of courage with every baby step, but not even halfway across (although it seemed like seven hours had passed) my latch snagged on one of the connectors on the cable. I WAS STUCK!!! Rescue workers were going to have to rappel down from the top of the bridge, tandem-harness me twenty feet up to the top and none of it would matter because I was going to faint! But before that happened, my big, strong maintenance man gave my lanyard a push and a jiggle and I was free. (Preventive maintenance my ass.)
Why couldn’t I have made reservations for rafting? I’ve had good experiences with that and I like water. But I digress.
Back on the bridge, a wave of relief overcame any remaining trepidation when I finally saw the end of the catwalk. I happily stepped onto the exit platform, even more thankful to see the waiting shuttle bus. Phil unhooked my latch and congratulated me, “You did it, girl!”
I guess I did.